The Gifted (to be released June 25, 2013)
Wale needs to mail all royalty checks from this album to Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams.
Well, that might be a slight overstatement. Still, Williams’ soulful background vocals and lush production are the foundation of Wale’s third studio album. They make a formidable combination.
But don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t one of those “Best of Both Worlds” collabo albums. Even among more than a dozen guest stars, Wale usually shines brightest.
Wale says it best on the album intro, “Curse of the Gifted,” y’all don’t even gotta love him, but you will respect his hustle. Sean C and LV’s soulful production set the tone for the first half of the album, which speaks on various aspects of American life. It’s not just trap cliches and tales of opulence, it’s topical music all of Wale’s listeners can relate to.
First single “Bad” oozes with honestly from the eyes of a bad girl. The remix with Rihanna is also featured here, but the original version with Tiara Thomas sounds much more authentic, squeaky bed and all. It’s the only time Wale is truly upstaged.
“Gullible” drips with conspiracy theories that don’t sound all that far far-fetched, in light of the NSA monitoring. “Bricks” shows the other side of the trife life, pointing out that desperate times call for desperate measures – those illegal activities can be the foundation for hope. Wale kills his haters with kindness on “Heaven’s Afternoon”: “Dream killers out, I see them in the rear/Before I put them in a song, put them in a prayer.”
And speaking of prayer, there have been a ton of recent hip hop releases sprinkled with religious allegories (Game, J. Cole, Kanye, etc.), but “Golden Salvation (Jesus Piece)” is one of the best. It expertly balances the spiritual and superficial: “Sunday services pastor is the wealthy ones working it/Preaching Armageddon while collection plates been circling the room/Fear’s but a tool.” Even if you don’t agree, it makes you think.
Sadly, things quickly nosedive on the second half of the album. It’s filled with lazy strip club anthems (“Clappers”), horrible punchlines (“And I like a good story, I bet she got a mean tail,” on “Tired of Dreaming”) and played-out “you remind me of my jeep” metaphors (“Rotation”).
Too bad Wale didn’t get more love from Stokley, whose gentle finger snaps fuel “LoveHate Thing” and alluring vocals invigorate “Sunshine” and “Black Heroes.”
Even with its flaws, The Gifted remains one of Wale’s strongest releases.
At the end of the album, Wale talks to Jerry Seinfeld (?!) about his next project. As long as Stokley’s on board, I will be too.
Best tracks: “Bad,” “Golden Salvation (Jesus Piece),” “Black Heroes”
3.5 stars out of 5